Every year, Oxford City Council’s Counter Fraud Investigation Team detects and prevents millions of pounds’ worth of fraud
Oxford City Council’s Counter Fraud Investigation team works across a wide range of council services, from social housing to Council Tax and Right to Buy. Its mission? To prevent financial losses, identify stolen funds for recovery and assist national agencies.
That might mean tracking down false housing or Right to Buy applications, illegal subletting, fraudulent Council Tax exemptions and many other crimes. The team’s efforts protect public funds, ensure residents receive maximum value for money, free up scarce social housing for others and make criminals repay stolen funds.
“People give many reasons when dealing with local authorities,” says Intelligence Officer Nathalia Odwin. “When the back story doesn’t add up, it’s up to our team to discover the truth. It’s all about information gathering – double-checking and cross-checking data.”
That demands a range of methods, from formal interviews to searching through reference data on UK residents, businesses and properties. For the latter, the team have long relied on GBG Investigate.
When the back story doesn’t add up, it’s up to our team to discover the truth.
GBG Investigate gives Oxford’s Intelligence team access to over 1.5 billion enhanced, interlinked records, with sophisticated yet intuitive searching and visualisation options. It’s simple to opt out of the Electoral Roll, but GBG’s multi-sourced, consented commercial data reveals otherwise hidden links to cohabitants, channel contacts and aliases. When just one email can open up a whole new line of inquiry, Investigate is the best starting point for any UK-wide investigation.
“We hold a lot of information on our own tenants but, when we have to look beyond Oxford, GBG Investigate is always our first port of call,” says Nathalia. “We’ve previously used lots of different systems and how clearly GBG Investigate presents such a wide range of information really stands out. You can immediately see how different people, addresses and businesses are linked together.”
Compared to free sources like the UK Companies House website, GBG Investigate’s business and consumer data is far broader, more detailed and intricately interconnected. This helped the Intelligence team discover that an application for social housing from a mother and daughter claiming to be “homeless and penniless” actually had money available and spent considerable time out of the UK – meaning they do not qualify for housing support. They withdrew their housing application.
In another case of fraud, an email address found via Investigate revealed that a tenant was mostly absent from Oxford and likely lived at her parents’ address, disqualifying her for social housing. “It became clear she didn’t live there and now that housing is available for someone else who actually needs it,” says Nathalia.
Right to Buy applications are one of our biggest fraud risks and we check GBG Investigate for every single one
The team has now successfully closed thousands of cases. In the 2021-22 financial year alone, its investigators prevented losses and generated income totalling over £6.7 million for Oxford City Council – more than six times the team’s annual target. Between April 2016 and March 2021, the total was a staggering £26.5 million, along with stopping £12.5 million of fraudulent and irregular Business COVID grants.
In fact, the team is so effective that, branded as the Oxford Investigation Service (OIS), it now serves external clients. In 2021-22, it recovered £2.1 million for them – and also generated an extra £164,272 income for Oxford City Council. Successes included the second-highest Unlawful Profit Order ever: the criminal had to repay £145,178 to Riverside Housing for illegally subletting her flat.
“When you have a long list of cases to get through, it’s so much more productive to just log into Investigate,” says Nathalia. “With a £98,000 discount, Right to Buy applications are one of our biggest fraud risks and we use GBG Investigate to check every single one. It’s strange that, when we start asking questions, how many withdraw their Right to Buy application!”
GBG’s strong support, ongoing training, 100% service uptime and, most of all, Investigate’s excellent data coverage and accuracy: they all add up to a dependable, efficient and effective tool. “Investigate is very intuitive and easy to use,” says Nathalia. “If we ever need help, we know we can rely on GBG.”
GBG’s strong support, along with Investigate’s excellent data coverage and accuracy add up to a dependable, efficient and effective tool